Gabon villagers troubled by ‘sacred’ tree being cut down
“Nobody should sell this wood. It protects the forest. But those who sell it will be hunted by the spirits of the forest,” warns Daniel MessaAbaga, a guardian of Gabon’s Kevazingo trees.
The elderly man, born around 1930, sits on his porch at Bendoussang in the north of the densely forested equatorial country, troubled when fellow villagers sell the hardwood — sometimes from trees five centuries old — to sawmills and collectors.
Better known in the West as Bubinga, Kevazingo is much sought after in Gabon and Cameroon, but unlike the equally prized and abundant Okoume, it is rare and trees take many years to mature. They can grow more than 40 meters tall, with a trunk diameter the size of a man.
Timber from Kevazingo trees is highly valued in Asia. The Japanese and Chinese use it to make chic tables and chairs, as well as wooden bells, panels and specialty guitars, which count among export products.
The wood is hard, heavy and dense. It ranges in color from a pinkish red through ruddy brown with streaks of black or purple. One connoisseur told AFP that “Keva” is especially appreciated for the lovely designs in the grain.
Compared with other tropical hardwoods, Kevazingo comes at an astronomical price. Cut into a single piece with sufficient girth, a single cubic meter can fetch between one and two million CFA francs (US$1,700-3,400) in the capital Libreville, a source close to the trade says. But on average, a cubic meter sells for 300 to 600 euros.
“The leading buyers here in Bitam are Chinese. ‘Keva’ sells according to its diameter. The price can reach 200,000 CFA francs here if the diameter is large,” says Jimmy Amnvene Nkounou, owner of a company in the town named “Respect du bois” (Respect For Wood).
The business is totally above board, Nkounou adds. “I acquire Kevazingo with my permit and I do so in legal fashion in the areas where I’m authorized to operate.”
He points out, however, that there can be “disputes between villages. Sometimes there are people who don’t want any logging.”
Some trees are more than 500 years old, according to Nkounou. To chop down the biggest ones, the area around each tree must first be deforested, then a ramp is dug into the soil to hold the trunk when it falls. The extremely heavy wood can then be loaded on to a lorry.
A file photo taken Oct. 11, 2012 shows people visiting the Societe Nationale des Bois du Gabon (National Wood Company of Gabon) (SNBG) in Owendo, port of Libreville, Gabon.